The Story of Self-effacing Chandimal

Team sports can be a tough proposition, since anyone can easily be lost between self and team. What do you play for? Who do you play for? For personal milestones or team’s glory? For yourself or your team? Though any sports person would argue that team comes above self, only a few scrupulous individual would admit that, in fact, self comes in the way of team, especially when the target of the team is accomplished or almost accomplished.

But you do find individuals who are ready to stick into the team, bind the team and be one of the many stones, those, together with the pillars form a strong building. Though, that natural human nature of hunting personal glories might be extant in them, they offset it with their patriotism and team spirit. On the other hand, history books often read the names of players who have achieved stardom individually, while the “Team Men” are thrown into limbo. Perhaps it is for that very reason Sachin, Murali, Lara and Warne have become household names while players like Kumar Dharmasena, Russel Arnold, Chamara Silva, etc. have become cricket mendicants. That doesn’t necessarily mean that eminent Cricketers are often selfish, but often selfless cricketers are brushed under the carpet.

The next generation would probably not know that a player called Russel Arnold played for Sri Lanka. Russel Arnold was someone who put the team above himself. He absorbed a lot of pressure; batted everywhere in the batting order; both opened and finished innings. His Cricinfo profile reads “an unselfish approach explains the high esteem in which he is held by teammates”. There was another one called Chamara Silva, who in a game in which he needed to perform well to perpetuate his career, ran to the danger end trying to save Mahela Jayawardane. His future was in the form of a wicket in front of him. As he ran towards the crease, it was not only the distance between him and the wicket that dwindled but also his chances of playing international cricket again. Luckily for him the oppositions fumbled and he got a life line. Nuwan Kulasekara would do the same thing 3 years later against England, but this time to guard Sangakkara. Players who sacrifice themselves for the course of their team should become heroes, not just for a night but forever, a reverie that will perhaps happen when man surpasses the speed of light.

The above facts are pertinent to another player in the Sri Lankan side. Lokuge Dinesh Chandimal who lost his entire house to the boxing day Tsunami is a perfect example of how being a team man can consume your career, in a world that is too busy to read a book and judges a book by its cover. Haters might bring the century he scored against England at Lords’ as a contradiction, but that was done when Sri Lanka had almost won the match. “The team should come first, but depending on the match situation, if there is time, you can go for personal achievements as well” said Chandimal in an interview. He is indeed one of the very few scrupulous individual that I mentioned earlier.

Chandimal, in my view, is an ebullient, fierce warrior who would not prostrate himself before any bowlers. He is a rare Sri Lankan player who loves to give the score board men a run for their money. Sometimes it works for him, but often it underwhelms him. Even before he made his debut he was heralded to be the next big thing in Sri Lanka Cricket. Media hyped “If anyone would break Sanga’s record, then it is this man”. He did no harm to the hopes when he made his international debut against New Zealand in a WT20 match. On a tough track he batted with a lot of resilience that has been one of his inherent qualities. That effort was followed by a century only in his 2nd ODI against India that included the present stars Jadeja and Ashwin. That year was a lucrative one for him. He made his T20I debut, scored his maiden ODI century and ended up as the highest run getter in the now defunct Provincial T20 tournament. But amidst his expertise at the domestic level, selectors kept overlooking him, dishing players like Kandamby and Kapugedera with plenty of opportunities. The abject failure of Kapugedera in the 2011 World cup and the need for grooming youngsters paved the way for Chandimal into the team. He impressed promptly scoring a ton at Lord’s. He propped up his good performances by scoring heavily in Australia and South Africa. He was the highest run getter for Sri Lanka in 2012 in ODIs.

Even through his purple patch, Chandimal was a destitute gypsy, moving up and down the order. He had batted from number 1 to number 8. When he performed poorly, he mostly batted below number 4. Both of his centuries have come at number 3. He has played nine matches at number 3 scoring 266 runs at a dazing average of 53.20. At number 4 his average drops down to 33.28, but that isn’t too bad for a Sri Lankan batsman. He has played 47 matches at that position scoring 1298 runs with 92 as the highest score. He has played 26 matches below number 4 scoring 335 runs at a lousy average of 18.61. Trash those 26 games, Chandimal’s average would be better than most Sri Lankan batsman, 34.93.

Sangakkara and Jayawardane have obstinately occupied that number 3 and number 4 positions. That lead to Chandimal’s demotion down the order forcing him to bat when more than run a ball was required. A selfish batsman could have taken his time to settle down and then could have gone onto score run a ball, both preserving his wicket and bloating his average. The world would have been easy on him too, bringing in stats to vindicate his position in the team and arguing that he had not done anything bad to be ostracized. But when men sans ego play cricket, they often provide both expert and armchair critics with bountiful cases to keep them out. Chandimal is unfortunately a player who strictly adheres to self-denial.

At the death, Chandimal gets out, often trying to hit against his ability, to up the rate of scoring, feeding his haters with plenty of fodder to yap for. People often measure players’ contribution through tangible entities such as stats but often fail to discern the empirical value of the person concerned.

Lifting a world cup trophy would have been one of the commonest dream of any sports loving kid. Chandimal could have been no different. Seeing Malinga land a peck on the coveted trophy and lifting it would have made Chandimal rue his missed opportunity of materializing a lifelong dream. One would have expected Chandimal to stand in a corner with a long face enshrouded by a sham smile, bemoaning his plight. But instead he was one of the very firsts to break into the field when Thisera Perera Cracked a six to win the WT20. It was on his shoulders that Sanga made his lap of honour. Behold! For a man who was criticized for his poor bating in T20Is, who dropped himself to allow Thirimanne to bat in his stead, who sacrificed the ultimate honour of lifting the emblem of glory, to come out and lift his idol and celebrate his country’s success even though he was deprived of a place in the side, needs more than just selflessness. “We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.”, only Buddha can explain Chandimal’s cherubic nature.

When he was fired from the captain-ship, he tweeted,

In a country with a puny population, talents like Chandimal cannot be wasted. It is disheartening to see him off the team, while players with less skill and talent doggedly holding onto their places in the side. The stats clearly show that Chandimal is impeccable at number 3. If the selectors feel that he has no role to play in the current set-up, then they should at least make sure that he remains a part of the future set-up, after the duumvirate bid adieu. But as the selectors once fumbled, not giving him an opportunity when he was in the form of his life, which had it happened could have found Chandimal a permanent position in the team,fans can only hope that they don’t repeat their past blunder.

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